The spectacular play of tackle Tommie Harris was expected, but the Bears have also been pleasantly surprised by rookie end Mark Anderson, especially considering he was the 159th player drafted this year and then missed most of training camp with a knee injury. He had 7.5 sacks as a senior at Alabama but is undersized at 6-feet-4 and 255 pounds.
"We felt real good about him in minicamp, and then in training camp he got hurt," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "But we felt that the kid would respond and do some good things for us."
One of the keys to the defensive line's success is that all of them have fed off each other, and the Bears can go eight or nine players deep without much drop-off in talent. That allows Rivera to always have fresh players on the field, and it allows the Bears to come at opponents in waves. Anderson has benefited from the pressure up the middle provided by Harris, Ian Scott, Johnson, Alphonso Boone and Israel Idonije.
"We always knew the kid was fast and quick off the ball, and if you can get a good jump like he has at the snap, you can get upfield, you can get pressure on the quarterback and you can make plays," Rivera said. "But kudos to the tackles because Tank and Tommie and Ian and Izzy, those guys are able to get good push and not allow quarterbacks to step up. When you have a speed rusher coming from the outside, that's what he wants is a quarterback sitting back there deep."
Harris has elevated his level of play this season from Pro Bowl to superstar. No Bears tackle since Jim Flanigan in 1995 has reached double digits in sacks, and Harris is almost halfway there just one-fourth of the way through the season.
It seems only a matter of time before the rest of the league agrees with what a lot of the Bears were saying in the locker room late Sunday night: that Harris is the best tackle in the NFL. And it isn't just players.
"I'm going to jump on the same bandwagon," coach Lovie Smith said. "And I'm not necessarily jumping on the bandwagon (just) now. Tommie was in the Pro Bowl last year for a reason. He's an outstanding football player who's playing dominating football right now."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers might have to take it easy with quarterback Brett Favre in a short preparation week for Sunday's game against St. Louis.
Favre was removed from Monday night's 31-9 loss at Philadelphia after he took a shot from defensive end Juqua Thomas with about six minutes left in the game. The 36-year-old Favre got up slowly and walked off to the sideline visibly dazed following an incomplete pass on third down.
Coach Mike McCarthy said afterward that Favre had a head injury and a shoulder stinger. The momentum from Thomas' glancing blow to Favre's right arm and shoulder caused the quarterback's head to hit the back side of left tackle Chad Clifton.
It wasn't known whether Favre sustained a concussion.
"He was just shooken up," McCarthy said. "I don't think it's serious."
Favre wasn't made available to reporters after the game and was said to have a splitting headache.
He has been unbreakable in the face of injury throughout his 14-plus years as the team's offensive leader. He has started 245 consecutive games, including the playoffs — a league record for quarterbacks.
Second-year Aaron Rodgers relieved Favre for the Packers' final series.
The health woes punctuated another miserable outing for Favre against the Eagles. He has never won a game in six visits to Philadelphia.
Favre was just 22-of-44 for 205 yards and had two critical interceptions in the third quarter Monday for a woeful passer rating of 44.2. The second miscue irked McCarthy because Favre was tardy with a throw down the middle to tight end David Martin, allowing safety Michael Lewis to slide over and pick off the under thrown pass.
"That's late down the middle," McCarthy lamented.
In six games against the Jim Johnson-coordinated Eagles defense since 2000, Favre has thrown for only four touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Monday's output was the first time Favre shattered the 200-yard barrier in the recent span. The Packers have lost the last five meetings, dating to 2003.
"He struggles with the ball downfield. It's been a problem for him, and people will continue to challenge him until he stops it," first-year head coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday. "Even prior to my arrival here, he's one that's been challenged, particularly with the way people go after him with the deep ball."